Sunday, February 17, 2013

Plowshares and Swords, Joel 3:10, Micah 4:3, Isa. 2:4

A couple months ago I found this beautiful Ethiopian Coptic cross for sale at the St. Louis Art Museum. The cross, with Christ in the center blessing bread, is made of armaments and thus is a symbol of the Lord's peace that overcomes human violence.

I thought of the famous verse from Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3 and the contrasting verse Joel 3:10. I've seen these sets of verses referenced as an example of the variety of witnesses within the Bible.

Proclaim this among the nations:

Prepare war,
stir up the warriors.

Let all the soldiers draw near,
let them come up. 

Beat your plowshares into swords,
and your pruning-hooks into spears;
let the weakling say, "I am a warrior" (Joel 3:9-10)

He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more; 

but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken (Micah 4:3-4)

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house

shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;

all the nations shall stream to it. 
Many peoples shall come and say,

"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;

that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths."

For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 

He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;

they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more (Isa. 2:2-4)

I forget where I learned about these verses and the seeming contradiction: in one place the people are called to create weapons from agricultural tools, and in the other two passages, the reverse is taught.

But this is a good example of the need to understand overall contexts of biblical writings rather than lift out verses from larger passages. We need to stop thinking simplistically about “what the Bible teaches” in the sense of isolated verses. In this case, it’s not that the Bible “teaches two different things” about tools and weapons. Rather, the passages are all looking to the future time of God's final victory, which will involve peace, justice and righteousness among all nations.

Micah and Isaiah both lived in the 700s BC. We don’t know when Joel was written----nothing in the text speaks to any particular time period, and scholars debate its original context----so we don't know which of these prophets first used the farm tools/weapons image and which inverted it. The Joel passage depicts the nations (the Gentile kingdoms) who have opposed the God of Israel and plan to make war upon the people. They are so confident that even the weak are eager to join the battle. Obviously, the ancient peoples aren’t going to run down to their nearest gun shop and arm themselves, and so they craft weapons from a handy source of metal: farming implements.

But as enemies of Israel come to the valley of Jehoshaphat, God summons his angelic armies to fight against the Gentile nations. This is the "day of the Lord," a recurring biblical theme of God's great judgment against wickedness. The next verse of Joel, 3:18, is the original prophetic image (reused in Revelation 14:14-20) of God’s victory as harvest of grapes put into the wine press of God’s wrath. The commentator in The New Interpreter’s Bible comments that although we recoil at bloody scriptures of God’s judgment because we prefer the loving and kind aspect of God, nevertheless God is an enemy of wickedness as testified in the Bible. “A God who is merely friendly is no match for such evil” (p. 334).

The other two scriptures are also eschatological---pertaining to God's final victory----but for a different purpose. In Isaiah and Micah, the nations have already come to God, and God’s reign will be a time of peace and justice. Therefore, no necessity exists for the crafting of weapons.

Whether your theological spectrum falls toward the Reinhold Niebuhr side or the John Howard Yoder side, passages like these invite reflection on what the response of Christians and others toward the establishment of peace and justice in the world. Clearly the power of change is God's rather than ours, but should we focus our energies on prayer and everyday acts of kindness rather than social change (considering the main power and initiative is God's)? Or should we also actively work for peace and justice?  Or some combination? That choice, too, is an aspect of God's guidance and initiative.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lent, Growth, and Bible Reading

A 2010 post from my "Journeys Home" blog. How does our growth in Christ (at Lent and other seasons) connect to our Bible reading? How is our spiritual growth guided by the Bible? How do we read the Bible not as a kind of cut-and-dried handbook for living, and more as a reflection and conduit of the spiritual power available to us through the Lord?

We don’t always think through the way the power of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and the Spirit's ongoing presence in our lives guides the way we read and interpret the Bible.[1] This point came home to me strongly as I was reading Graeme Goldsworthy’s Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture.[2] Goldsworthy says that, “while there is much in the Bible that is strictly speaking not the gospel, there is nothing in the Bible that can be truly understood apart from the gospel.”[3] Although his assertion by no means exhausts the different ways we can read the Bible, I find his argument quite interesting with regard to preaching, devotional Bible reading, and Christian practice.[4] How does the Good News—the wholly free gift of salvation of sinners through the blood of Christ and the accompanying power of the Holy Spirit—influence our Bible reading?

For one thing, the Good News gives is a larger interpretive framework with which to approach the whole Bible. For instance, consider the Torah. Jews revere the Torah as God’s direct word, while the prophets are God’s message communicated through the prophets’ words, and the books of the Writings (the Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Esther, and others) are divinely inspired but are more definitely of human authorship.[5] If a person’s sole scripture is the Old Testament, then this hermeneutical approach makes sense and is consistent. But the New Testament changes these levels of authority. In the New Testament, the prophets and also the psalms take on greater authority; the “lesser” prophets and writings became keys for interpreting Jesus as messiah and, therefore, for interpreting the Torah. Consequently, Christians interpreted the Torah as a preliminary, yet not abrogated way by which God expresses his will (Matt. 5:17-20, Rom. 3:31, Heb. 3:1-6). Because of Christ, we must think about the ways that the Torah is scripture for Christians. Instead of quoting it randomly for proof-texts, or ignoring most of it altogether, we must interpret the laws in the context of the Bible’s whole witness.

Similarly, consider the prophets. Read through those books and you’ll see the harshness of God’s judgment against the people’s faithlessness and the direness of his warnings. A person could easily neglect the context of the prophets in ancient Israel and use prophetic judgments to address contemporary examples of unrighteousness and social injustice. (For instance, we use the term “prophetic preaching” to mean sermons and writings that confront, challenge and criticize.) The prophets’ themes are timeless: the formal practice of religion is no substitute for true righteousness, and true righteousness always includes justice (e.g. Amos 5:23-24). But when we look at the prophets with a broader view, we also see that the prophets focus not only upon then-current societal situations but also God’s plans for the future. God achieves his will for the people of the divided kingdom of the prophets’ times, but God also, through the prophets, announces his will for the more distant future: the person and work of Christ. To use the prophets primarily to address specific social problems risks neglecting the “canonical shape” that puts the prophets in context with Christ’s salvation.[6]

But not only does the gospel give us an interpretive framework for the whole Bible, the Good news of Christ's death and resurrection also informs how we understand New Testament teachings, so that we don't err and consider them a form of salvation by works, as Goldsworthy argues. The Bible's words are inseparable from the life and power of a living Savior who is our teacher, healer, and risen Lord. The Good News frees us from the law (Gal. 3:10, 3:23) and also makes us take the demands of discipleship all the more seriously, because we’re freed from the notion that God saves us when we, in our supposed personal righteousness, have checked off the “shalts” and avoided all the “shalt nots.”

I thought of several ways this is true when we think during Lent (and other seasons) about our spiritual goals and growth in Christ.

* When I was young, I worried that God was keeping track of every time I became angry and called someone a “fool” (or “jerk” or “idiot” or more unprintable versions): Matt. 5:21-22. Yes, we’re held accountable for “every careless word” (Matt. 12:36), but we’re not saved by anything we do or don’t do (Rom. 3:28). We’re saved from our sins, without reservation, and we have ongoing forgiveness and power for salvation (Heb. 4:14-16). But when we look at this “fool” passage in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we see afresh at how Jesus has saved us from all our sins (past, present and future), and so, thus freed from the fear of earning God’s wrath (Rom. 5:9), we can respond with a new sense of joy and love, both for God and for one another (Rom. 8:1-8). As Christ healed his contemporaries, his love and power heals our souls of angry words (although anger is a normal human emotion when appropriately addressed: Eph. 4:26, 31).

Thus, instead of interpreting that “fool” saying as a law, we see it as an even deeper challenge: how are we modeling Christ’s love? How are we growing in love through the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-24, so that dismissive and contemptuous comments cross our minds less frequently? How is the Spirit of Christ changing the content of our hearts?

* Similarly forgiveness. “We’re supposed to forgive each other,” we might say. But we forgive each other in the context of a lively, growing relationship with Christ. When we are freed by Christ’s death and resurrection, forgiveness is not a law or a hard obligation. Forgiveness is a response to Christ’s unearned love. Even more, we don’t have to force ourselves to forgive through our own will power, but we find power to learn to forgive (and even empowered forgiveness isn’t always easy) as we deepen our relationship to Christ.

* And prayer. Another verse that worried me when I was young was “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17, KJV). I couldn’t do that! Nobody can: our brains are not neurologically set to focus continually. But that verse isn’t a law that requires every single thought to be prayerful. That verse is a call to deepen our love and concern for one another as we receive the resurrected Jesus’ love and power. Instead of interpreting the verse primarily as a rule, we focus upon Christ as our Savior and helper when we fail. Through Christ, our minds and hearts acquire the habit and impulse of prayer.

* And speaking of prayer: how do we pray the Psalms as Christians? Obviously the psalms are Hebrew and Jewish prayers, now part of the Christian canon, too. But as Christians, we could very easily neglect to connect the psalms to Christ’s death and resurrection. For instance, if you’re in (what I call) a “Psalm 51 state of mind,” are you praying the prayer as a plea to God for forgiveness and restoration? Do you also and simultaneously keep firmly in mind that we have forgiveness and restoration already through the crucified and risen Lord? I admit, I've prayed the psalm without connecting it strongly to Christ's saving death and resurrection! But David prayed his prayer without Christ. Psalm 51, classic though it is, we Christians HAVE to connect it to verses like Romans 7:24-25 and 8:37-39, where the assurance of Christ’s salvation of sinners is affirmed.

* What about using a Bible verse as God’s holy word in condemnation of another person? Jesus himself stood condemned by God’s word; he was under a curse because of God’s law (Deut. 21:23). He also gave grace and a new opportunity to the woman of John 7:53-8:11, when people used God’s word against her. Certainly the Bible warns us and can be used to warn. But one particular warning, Matthew 7:1-5, is all the more keen when we’re tempted to employ the Bible in a condemnatory way. This is good to remember--always, but also during a time of self-assessment and honest introspection during the Lenten season.

* As we grow in Christ, we're called to make disciples. Is our evangelism always supposed to achieve great results? The contemporary decline of membership among mainline denominations has added urgency to evangelistic efforts. Acts 2:41 and 47 imply that, if we’re doing evangelism right, God will bless our efforts with great numbers. This outlook dovetails well with American concepts of success; but “getting great numbers” was not a concern of Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46; nor was Paul’s ministry among the Athenians effective in practical terms. Yet no one would say that Paul shouldn’t have taken his ministry among the Greek intellectuals. Our command to make disciples (Matt. 28:19) is relevant whether we make a few disciples or many: the real work of conversation is not done by us but by God’s Spirit.

* How about using Bible characters as models? Let me use David as an example, for the Bible calls him a “man after God’s heart” (1 Samuel 13:13-14, Acts 13:22), in spite of his very flawed life. If you’re like me, you want to be a person after God’s heart, too! We ask, “How can God use me? Does God see me as somebody he can use?” Neither is necessarily an easy question to answer. As we develop a good spiritual life that includes regular worship, fellowship, Bible reading, prayer, and a certain amount of spiritual discipline, we try to keep focusing back to God. We try to stay open to God’s guidance and purpose. We take comfort that a flawed person like David could be so well used by God.

But we can’t raise these questions only in the context of David’s stories! Goldsworthy makes this point concerning Bible heroes in general. First, we need to be careful not to place ourselves on a similar stature as David, to make ourselves equal somehow to him, or to make God’s plans with Israel similar to the patterns of our lives. (Besides, David was an Iron Age warrior and killer of many, many people; to focus upon and identify with only his spiritual humility is to ignore significant things about him.) David and his people were special in God’s salvation history, while we’re beneficiaries of the groundwork God accomplished through them.

Second, although we can certainly learn with aspects of Bible characters’ experiences, we need to seek God’s will about these stories in the context of our salvation in Christ. For instance, we all actually have a better chance to become close to God than David because, now, God’s Spirit is poured out to all of us. We potentially have a clearer notion of God's will for our lives than Abraham, for we have the Spirit and a community to help us discern God's leadings. God’s Spirit gives gifts of power and ministry unimaginable in ancient times, taking God’s will for us to new levels (John 14:12).

So often we take Bible passages and Bible commandments and separate them from the key things: our covenant relationship with God, our relationship to God through Christ, our assurance of salvation, and the power of the Holy Spirit which is at work in us. The way Goldsworthy puts it, "The problem is when the gospel is viewed only as how we start the Christian life, for then the only way to continue is law. Yet the perspective consistently set out in the New Testament is that we need the gospel [Christ's saving power] to grow. . . The greater our sense of being forgiven and justified sinners, the greater will be the likelihood that others will see in us the character of Christ." [7]

1. The idea of “progressive revelation” affirms the development of God’s truth from lesser to greater clarity. Scriptures such as a prophetic messianic text or a messianic psalm have has meaning for their own times but gain additional meaning when we connect the passage’s original sense to Christ.

2. Preaching the Whole Bible As Christian Scripture: The Application of Biblical Theology to Expository Preaching by Graeme Goldsworthy (Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 2000).

3. Goldworthy, page 95.

4. In its variety of witnesses, the Bible allows for a variety of readings. For instance, Walter Brueggemann warns: “[T]he task of Old Testament theology, as a Christian enterprise, is to articulate, explicate, mobilize, and make accessible and available the testimony of the Old Testament in all of its polyphonic, elusive, imaginative power and to offer it to the church for its continuing work of construal toward Jesus. That is, Old Testament theology, in my judgment, must prepare the material and full respect the interpretive connections made in the New Testament and the subsequent church; but it must not make those connections, precisely because the connections are not to be found in the testimony of ancient Israel, but in the subsequent work of imaginative construal that lies beyond the text of the Old Testament.” Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy by Walter Brueggemann (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), page 732. Brueggemann differs in his approach from the canonical readings of Brevard Childs.

5. The Seventy Faces of Torah: The Jewish Way of Reading the Sacred Scriptures by Stephen M. Wylan, (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2005), pages 22-23.
This is not to say Jews cannot interpret the Torah laws, and certainly Jews do not regard the law as a form of self-salvation, which is a Christian stereotype. Jews recognize that not every law is applicable today and therefore they must be discussed and considered. Torah: A Modern Commentary, edited by W. Gunther Plaut (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981), is a publication from the Reform tradition that interprets and discusses the Torah material.

6. Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context by Brevard S. Childs (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), pages 128-132.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Psalm 51 Needs More

Psalm 51 was one of the Ash Wednesday scriptures. I wouldn’t want to say that you haven’t fully experienced the amazing peace of forgiveness if you haven’t first felt in your heart the ache of sin—the sin that has hurt people, made a mess of things, and made you afraid for your relationship with God. Nor would I, for obvious reasons, recommend sin and error as a prelude for a relationship to God (Romans 6:1-2). But Psalm 51 is a wonderful assurance when you’ve stumbled (or, perhaps more commonly, that you just feel very inadequate and "beat up on yourself" a lot). Sometimes we stumble publicly, as did David, more often our failures are comparatively private but our consciences dog us.

What the psalm may lack, though, is a very strong assurance of God’s forgiveness, which, after all, hard to see if you’re troubled. It's a prayer from the perspective of the sinner, but there are scriptural assurances that should be read along with the prayer, for instance Romans 7:24-25, where the assurances of Christ's salvation of lost, broken people is affirmed. If you’re in (what I call) a “Psalm 51 state of mind,” you need to simultaneously keep firmly in mind that we have forgiveness and restoration already through Christ. You need to remember that just because you feel very badly, that God doesn't feel the same way about you as you do about yourself.

In fact, recently I read a book that made an interesting point from a different angle. The author noted how afraid he had once felt concerning Matthew 25:46 and its promise of eternal punishment. What a terrible fate lay in store for people who denied Jesus unwittingly! But the author realized … by the criteria of Matthew 25:46, Jesus’ disciples were all heading to Hell! Soon after this passage, they all denied and forsook him, not by failing to help the needy, but in the literal sense: they abandoned him in his most desperate time. But what happens?  Jesus appears to them, loves them, and promises his eternal companionship (Matt. 28:20).(1) Passages like this are also great assurances that God never ever gives up on us, no matter how badly we've messed up.

1.  Matthew Linn, Sheila Fabnicant Linn, and Dennis Linn, Understanding Difficult Scriptures in a Healing Way (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2001), chapter 2.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Christ-Focused Lent, 1 Cor. 9:24-27, Gal. 5:12-15

A post from my "Journeys Home" blog.... Many of us spent Ash Wednesday with ash crosses upon our foreheads. Many of us will practice some kind of Lenten discipline, whether giving something up or adding something to our devotion. My question is: How can we prevent these practices from becoming self-centered rather than Christ-centered? To put it another way, how can our Lenten practices point to Christ rather than to ourselves?

To help answer these questions, I thought about a couple interesting passages from Paul, 1 Cor. 9:24-27 and Galatians 6:12-15. The first passage alludes to the original Greek sports. Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified (1 Cor. 9:24-27).

Someday I may make a list of Paul passages that I wish he had expressed better or differently; this is one. Obviously Paul would never teach salvation by works, but a person unfamiliar with Galatians and other letters might use this 1 Cor. 9 passage as a proof-text for "earning" God’s love. We never ever ever earn God's love; it's simply ours in abundance. That's why Paul is so grateful for the empowering cross of Christ, as discussed below.

Understood in context with the whole letter, 1 Cor. 9:24-27 refers to the self-discipline we need to love. We can certainly be very disciplined Christians--evidenced at Lent--but we’re wasting our time unless our spiritual practices lead to love, kindness, gentleness, and other gifts sketched by Paul in Galatians 5. (This, by the way, applies not just to Lent but to spiritual retreats like Emmaus, service ministries at your church, small groups, and other ways.) So the aim of spiritual practices is to curb our selfish inclinations so that we can display the lovingkindness and compassion that will definitely "show Christ" and not just proclaim Christ.

This point is depicted even more startlingly in the second Paul passage. Several years ago I wrote a short study book, Paul and the Galatians, for Abingdon Press. Paul’s hope that the pro-circumcision teachers at Galatia would “castrate themselves” (Gal. 5:12) is a notorious text. I think an equally startling text is just a few sentences down.

It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! (Gal. 6:12-15).

The explicit bitterness of Gal. 5:12 makes it a more obvious put-down than here in Gal. 6:12-13 which, you might notice, contains a double entendre. “Flesh” (sarx) means the sphere of human existence--a word usually used by Paul in distinction to God’s Spirit---but “flesh” here can mean the circumcision itself. To restate Paul more crudely, the pro-circumcision teachers are boasting about their penises (i.e., their circumcision), and they want to boast about the Galatian men's penises, too (i.e., to boast about converts to their belief that circumcision is necessary for Gentile Christians)!

Expressed so rudely and absurdly, the whole issue is clearer: boasting about our own righteousness is foolish. Only the amazing gifts of God--the cross of God and the consequent gift of the new creation through the Holy Spirit--are properly boasted about, according to Paul.

I’m very aware how regrettable is Paul’s language for contemporary Jewish-Christian fellowship. Paul faced different issues and a different circumstance than our own time, when many of us are seeking to help heal centuries of Christian anti-Judaism. Paul is upset here, not because he is prejudiced against Jews and their religion, but because he believes God has opened up amazing possibilities for Gentiles via God’s faithfulness to the Jews. Jews had always had (male) circumcision, but the Galatians were Gentiles and had never been required to adopt this Jewish sign of the covenant. And yet the Holy Spirit had been given to the Galatians--thus including Gentiles within God's covenant-faithfulness--without them doing anything to earn or deserve such a gift! God had already given them freedom and equal standing as heirs and children (Gal. 4:7). For Paul, this was an amazing, wonderful blessing for the Galatians (and others).

That's why Paul was so angry; the pro-circumcision teachers convinced the Galatians that they had to “make sure” they were truly within God’s will. For Paul, that was tantamount to saying that God’s gifts of freedom and equal standing as heirs was unsatisfactory; just in case the Holy Spirit is not enough, we need to “cover our bases" by adding a traditional rite. But how could the Holy Spirit be not enough?

As we study the Bible, we discover numerous gifts of transformation that the Holy Spirit provides as we’re touched by God’s love.

· Humility: a willingness (hypothetically, at least) to wash the feet of someone who has not “earned” your love but whom you love, nevertheless, as Christ loved his very imperfect disciples.
· Peacefulness: a kind of understanding of God that surpasses a purely cognitive agreement of doctrines about God
· Suffering: a condition we’d prefer to avoid, but which is biblically attested to be potentially a sharing in Christ’s own life.
· Loving-kindness and compassion: a desire to ease the suffering of others (certainly not to inflict it) because—to use a cliché—you feel the other’s pain. (Etymologically, compassion means “to suffer with.”)
· Knowledge of God: you can see God in the needs of the other person
· Love for enemies: you feel no hatred or anger for someone who has mistreated you (or, at least, you regularly turn to God for healing of your hatred).
· Contentment: a tranquility independent of your circumstances
· Joy: not just happiness and mirth (wonderful as those are) but a confidence that you understand the meaning and direction of life.
· Avoidance of certain circumstances: those wherein you might succumb to a temptation to which you’re prone, and you know yourself well enough to know your weaknesses.

To connect these gifts to our Lenten disciplines: we must keep in mind that these gifts are not characteristics that we’re supposed to achieve through will-power and discipline. Nor are our disciplines add-on rites about which to boast as if they, in themselves, make us righteous. [T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things (Gal. 5:22-23). Paul is being sarcastic again--of course no law (including laws stipulating circumcision) would create these qualities. They are gifts of the Spirit’s “new creation”. We, in turn, can open ourselves to the Spirit's love as we seek to understand more fully the depth of God's love.

Paul’s affirmation in Galatians 6 can be an excellent guide and focus during the upcoming season. Everything relies upon the power of God through the cross of Christ and the transforming Holy Spirit, and whatever personal righteousness I might bring to the table counts as nothing. How wonderfully freeing is that?! And yet our Lenten disciplines are not worthless because God can use them--and, indeed, God can lead us into undertaking them. 1 Cor. 9:24-27 alerts us that the power of God can tragically elude us if we're not careful. And so, aware of how easily we can become unloving, we strive to focus on seeking the Spirit's gifts of love, kindness, and gentleness which, in turn, show Christ.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

My Cousin C. C. Crawford

Not a Bible study, but an appreciation (from my other blog) of a cousin who was a Bible scholar.

When I was young, growing up in Fayette County, Illinois, relatives talked about a cousin who lived in Texas, Cecil Clement Crawford, who was a Christian minister, professor, and author of several theological books. My grandma Crawford knew him. He had sent her one of his books, Sermon Outlines on Acts, and three booklets which she kept in the manila envelope with Cecil’s return address. Sometimes at family get-togethers I’d look at the books, not deeply interested but intrigued at theological writing---and by a relative, at that. One of our cousins wrote books!  Grandma loaned them to another, local cousin but never got them back.

Cecil was actually a double cousin, rooted in our families in and around Vandalia. He was my grandfather Crawford’s second cousin. But Cecil’s mother was a Pilcher, my grandma Crawford’s family name. He and Grandma were second cousins through that family.  His father, Frank Crawford, and stepmother Fanny Crawford were local educators.  I believe Fanny may have been my dad's teacher during the 1920s. I don’t remember if I met Cecil prior to a family get-together, circa 1974, at the home of another Pilcher cousin, Ella Braun. (Grandma was deceased by that time; I was still in high school but interested in genealogy and family.) Cecil had traveled back to our hometown to visit Ella and other relatives and to visit family graves. His father and stepmother were buried in Vandalia, his mother in nearby St. Elmo, IL, and his infant sister, Armedia Ivy Crawford, in the Griffith Cemetery near Brownstown, another local village. I enjoyed meeting him. He seemed a very down to earth person. He and other family members joked about their dislike of wearing shoes indoors.

He died in 1976 at the age of 83 and was buried in El Paso. By that time I was in college and considering a religious vocation but, sadly, I had no opportunity to chat with him about it. However, the cousin to whom Grandma had loaned those books chanced into Mom and asked if she wanted them. Mom, annoyed at the presumption, said that she did indeed. Eventually I asked Mom if I could have them. I’ve always kept the booklets in the same manila envelope with Grandma's familiar address, "RFD 2, Brownstown, Illinois."

As described on book jackets, Cecil attended Washington University for his bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees, and also studied at St Louis University. He received the LL.D. from Southwest Christian Seminary. He was chairman for 11 years of the department of philosophy and psychology at Texas Western College of the University of Texas system, El Paso, and also taught at Dallas Christian College. I remember family members chatting about the fact that Cecil had been a parish pastor but, following his divorce from his first wife, was no longer allowed to serve in that role.

Over the years I’ve found more of his books. I do searches on By using the name “C.C. Crawford” for his books, he unintentionally made it difficult to narrow internet searches for his books. They are Bible study texts, theological books with Bible-study components, and some discussions of issues in the Campbellite churches.

Sermon Outlines on Acts (Cincinnati: The Standard Publishing Co., 1919)
The Passion of Our Lord (Joplin: College Press, 1968)
Sermon Outlines on the Restoration Plea (Murfreesboro, TN: Dehoff Publications, 1956)
Sermon Outlines on the Cross of Christ (Murfreesboro, TN: Dehoff Publications, 1960)
The American Faith (booklet, no publisher given, 1955)
Survey Course in Christian Doctrine, a four-volume set, Joplin: College Press, 1962-1964)
Commonsense Ethics (Dubuque: Wm. C. Brown Book Co., 1966)
What the Bible Says About Faith
The Eternal Spirit: His Person and Powers (Joplin: College Press, 1972)
The God of the Bible (booklet, no publisher given, 1960)
Genesis: The Book of Beginnings, a four-volume set in the Bible Study Textbook series, published by the College Press in 1966-1971. Each of these books is nearly 600 pages.

In addition to The God of the Bible, the two other booklets in Grandma’s package are “open letters to the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ": Freedom or Restructure? and The Truth about Restructure. 

I've not read all these but as I've leafed through them, I find many interesting Bible studies and connections-making, and theological discussions bringing in a very broad range of authors from biblical studies, philosophy, science, and American religion of the early- and mid-century. Of course, I don't agree with everything, but in most cases he invites a thoughtful response with his ideas and wide reading. In one of the books, he assures readers that they can use and adapt his writing without attribution. I lack at least two books of his, The Bible and Science and Sermon Outlines on First Principles. But I think he probably wrote more than these. Learning about my cousin Cecil and his career is an ongoing project.

Two of the books above, which I purchased online, were inscribed to Cecil’s cousin Nola. That sounds like a name I’ve seen in either the Crawford or Pilcher genealogies; I’ll look it up.

Speaking of cousins, I’d love to know if Cecil still has family in the El Paso area. I traced the Crawford family history in the 1970s but I did not keep up with various branches. Now, my information is too out of date for me to make any “cold” contacts. I’m brainstorming how I might find some of his relatives, in a non-creepy way. Some good folks who posted comments at my other blog gave me some ideas.

I chuckle that I've become the same kind of person in our extended family as Cecil was during my grandparents' generation: a former parish pastor who teaches college and graduate classes, a writer of Bible-related books who sends them freely to friends and relatives, and who is talked about as such by relatives. I feel very grateful and honored! A cousin on Dad’s side laughed that her son read one of my books at his church study group and had asked her, “Don’t we have a cousin named Paul Stroble?”

I dislike making myself a example of faith---other than of falling short---but isn't it amazing how God can subtly use us to influence one another? A little kid picks up a theological book at his grandma’s house, and the idea of writing about and teaching the Bible comes to fruition many years later. If you’re ever downhearted about your faith, you might take comfort in knowing that you may have influenced someone else, positively and tremendously, but you’ll never know it. You helped plant a seed. (That's one reason I don't respect church growth ideas that focus one-sidedly upon quantifiable results. Couldn't a church, pastor, or teacher exert tremendous influence upon persons, via the Holy Spirit, in ways that can't be reported in yearly numbers?)

Cecil did not continue in parish ministry but his books contain evangelistic appeals. The final volume of his Genesis set concludes with this faithful assurance as Cecil connects Joseph's story with Jesus:

Is there a poor sinner here today, whom God has disciplined, whether less or more severely than He did those men [Joseph's brothers], and brought you to repentance? If so, the kind Redeemer whom you rejected, and sold, as it were, to strangers, stands ready to forgive you more completely and perfectly than Joseph forgave his brethren. He has found out your iniquity; he knows it all; but he died that he might be able to forgive you. Come in his appointed way; come guilty and trembling, as Joseph’s brothers came, and you will find His everlasting arms around you (p. 587).